Tech Done Right in the Wilderness
By: Kevin L. Nichols
Founder, President & CEO — The Social Engineering Project, Inc.
[October 10, 2019. OAKLAND, CA] Tech conferences typically take place in convention centers, company offices, co-networking spaces, etc., however, the 3rd Annual The Social Engineering Project, Inc. (“TSEP”)’s Overnight Camping Conference took place in the Santa Cruz Mountains. From October 4–6, 2019, this conference included nearly 70 underrepresented high school students of color throughout Northern California at YMCA Camp Loma Mar. There, they learned about work/life balance, STEM careers, entrepreneurship, personal branding, networking, and college. The purpose of the camp was to expose the students to the importance of utilizing tools like mindfulness and yoga to reduce stress, while encouraging them to go to college, major in something STEM related, and consider owning their own business one day.
In order to achieve this, the first day focused on yoga and mindfulness. Thanks to Black to Yoga for loaning TSEP yoga mats for the students’ practice, Lonni Rivera (television reporter and journalist) and Lindsay Simonds (fundraising consultant and yoga practitioner) lead classes on the importance of meditation, stretching, and the health benefits of the poses.
Then, Michael D. Thomas (Of Counsel of Ogletree Deakins) and Juan Walker (Sr. Corporate Counsel at Oracle) taught the students mindfulness through personal experiences, being still, breathing, paying attention to their surroundings, and focusing.
TSEP Counselor La Shauna Nichols (Sr. UI/UX Designer and Founder Executive Director of Urban Tech Center), presented a workshop on how to create a pitch deck based upon her most recent experience presenting her app in Madrid at a Google Conference.
Day Two focused on STEM careers through various hands on workshops organized by tech companies. This year’s workshops were magnificent. Here is a synopsis of this year’s program:
GoPro’s “Creating a Camera” workshop was the highlight of the camp. Students learned about the process of creating a product by building their own “cameras” while working in cross-functional teams. Students were broken up into 3 teams (product, design, and engineering) and were given certain requirements for each team. For example, the engineering team may have had a specific requirement of how much power it needs to work effectively, the design team may want to place the battery on the camera in a certain location, and the product team may want the battery to last a certain period of time, weigh a certain amount to be competitive, and cost a certain amount. However, all of these factors could be at odds with one another. Thus, the students learned how to balance the various goals, needs, and constraints around their product. In the end, students learned that cross-functional collaboration is essential to creating a product and the importance of STEM in order to solve problems.
Walmart Labs did a workshop on the online shopping experience of its customers. Walmart provided a detailed overview of the importance of content (imagery, specifications, product descriptions, customer reviews, etc.) and how it impacts the customer’s experience (i.e. price, search, display, and delivery). The students were assigned the task of creating a content page for either an Xbox One, iPhone 11, Google Home, or Xiaomi Electric Scooter for Walmart.com. The Students had an amazing time working collaboratively in teams and came up with ideas that wowed the Walmart Labs engineers that were present.
Apple’s “Swift Playgrounds-Hour of Code” workshop worked with iPads and Spheros to teach the students beginner level coding by commanding robotic weighted balls’ movement. The Apple team walked the students through various programming competencies prior to allowing them to direct their balls to land on a specific target.
Finally, Northrop Grumman’s “Gears” workshop focused on how gears are used in their submarines. Then, they took matters a step further by learning how to create their own gears and use them with their own hands.
The students’ workshop groups were randomly assigned one of the workshops to create a pitch deck for why that workshop was the best workshop and why potential employees should want to work there. The students worked so hard to create the best presentation, that they even forfeited most of their free time that evening. GoPro’s Pitch Presentation was voted best by the counselors who were the decision makers and the students received one of a kind Apple T-Shirts as prizes.
Day Three was focused on college and tying the whole weekend together before the students departed. Thanks to the tireless effort of TSEP’s Director of Outreach and Partnerships, Linda Manes Goodwin, she organized a fabulous college workshop. Kirk Tramble, co-founder of U.C. Berkeley’s Black Engineering and Science Alumni Club (“BESAC”), moderated a panel featuring Yonatan Nieves, Front Office Assistant at U.C. Santa Cruz; Caroline Ouyang, counselor and recruiter from San Jose State; and TSEP Counselor Antwan Matthews, who attended Tougaloo College (an HBCU) and Brown University to talk about the application process, what college life is like, and how the various schools differ culturally/academically. Lastly, Kevin L. Nichols conducted his “Personal Brand Called You!” workshop that introduced the importance of building name recognition as students, develop the qualities that they wanted synonymous with their persona, and how to leverage their relationships in the future for getting into college, seeking internships, and starting their own companies.
The purpose of a tech conference should be to obtain knowledge that is not readily accessible and be able to apply it in your daily life. These high school students of color were transformed into engineers for a weekend, were challenged individually as well as collectively, and were able to learn constructive ways to find balance in a typically stressful environment. The experiential learning from this conference is life-changing and will hopefully have a tremendous impact on these young leaders of tomorrow.
The Social Engineering Project, Inc. is an Oakland based, social impact venture with Stanford University, designed to address the lack of diversity in the tech industry through pipeline programs for underrepresented students of color. The 3rd Annual TSEP Overnight Camping Conference was a tremendous success and would not have been possible without financial contributions from Northrop Grumman, Walmart Labs, PG&E, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.